Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is Christianity Against Learning?

Is Christianity against learning? This is a claim that is often made, with the Middle Ages being pointed to as proof of this thesis. The claim is that all learning perished and that this was the result of Christian dominance. Now this is an exaggeration. There continued to be scientific and technological advances through the Middle Ages. But to the extent it was true, the obvious culprit was the collapse of the Roman Empire. When the central government collapses and invaders overrun the existing culture, looting and pillaging, it is not surprising if a large degree of learning is lost. And it was the Christian church that worked to preserve literacy and learning. If anything, they had perhaps too high a view of learning and too high a view of antiquity. As a result, they preserved many books that did not fit the Christian view of the world and tried to reconcile them together into one system. Later, when order was restored, the Middle Ages produced many scholars who were interested, not only in studying theology, but in the various aspects of the natural world. The university was also created to promote higher education.

However, the classical Greek learning preserved in the Middle Ages had a problem. Its emphasis was on attempting to understand nature by abstract reasoning. In contrast, modern science has taken the more empirical approach of observation and experimentation. This is the distinction between a person who contemplates the universe in his study and one who is actively involved in the world.  I am convinced that the transition took place as a result of Christianity. Christianity approaches proof on a more empirical basis, appealing to eyewitnesses, rather than logical deductions. It also worships a God who directly created the world. Further, when God became a man, He became a carpenter, a man who works with his hands. But this new idea took time to be accepted against the predominant respect for entrenched Greek learning. It did not help that Aristotelian philosophy had become entwined with Roman Catholic theology and had been cemented there by the Protestant Reformation. It is therefore not surprising that, when Galileo challenged the established beliefs, he met strong resistance.

As for other martyrs for science, they were not. The issue with Columbus was not whether the world was round (he wrote that he had always read the world was a sphere) but whether it was smaller than generally thought. He was wrong. Bruno and Servetus were martyrs to their theological opinions, not to science. Now it does need to be noted that Christianity is a specific belief system and opposes contrary systems. Therefore, a person who holds to, for instance, atheistic  materialism may claim that Christianity is against learning because it is opposed to their belief. As an argument, this is merely circular reasoning. Therefore, there is no objective basis for saying Christianity is in principle opposed to learning.

No comments:

Post a Comment